This year, McKenzie must approach the inside linebacker spot using a two-pronged approach. He can’t allow the defense to go another year without a true leader and playmaker at the heart of the defense. Furthermore, tight ends have gashed the Raiders over the past few seasons due to their inability to cover space in the middle of the field.
McKenzie will have several options between free agency and the draft to address the middle linebacker spot. Defenders with coverage ability such as Dont’a Hightower, Zach Brown and Kevin Minter will be available on the free-agent market. Florida linebacker Jarrad Davis, Ohio State product Raekwon McMillan and Northwestern prospect Anthony Walker Jr. will be available between the second and third rounds.
As the Raiders rise to a Super Bowl contender, it’s time to add a linebacker who exhibits toughness, coverage ability and top-notch field awareness at the play-caller spot on defense.
Cruz has veteran experience that isn’t available on the Panthers’ current roster. After two seasons, Kelvin Benjamin may not be ready to fulfill that role and the same could be said for Devin Funchess. While they are both important parts of the offense, neither has the long-term play, and championship success that Cruz brings to the table. With Ted Ginn Jr. a free agent, there’s a large question mark as to whether or not he would return at this point in time. Ginn Jr has long been the speed option used to stretch defenses and Cruz would not be able to fill that void.
Veteran leadership is a valuable commodity for any sports team. These players help alleviate pressure on younger teammates and make big plays when the time is right. However, that leadership may not be worth the large contract number that Cruz could bring.
Even though he and general manager Dave Gettleman have a history together as part of the Giants, the Panthers should be weary of adding him to their group of wide receivers. Instead, the organization should be prepared to lean on the current pieces in place and push them for their continued development at this point in their careers.